Two significant speakers to headline Sunday’s sixth-annual event
It all started with a simple, overdue concept: designate one day a year to give Vietnam War veterans the proper thanks they never received when the conflict ended.
From this idea, Diane Finnemann in 2007 convinced the Forest Lake City Council to declare as Vietnam Veterans Day March 29, marking the anniversary of the last troops being withdrawn from South Vietnam in 1973.
The following March, the Forest Lake resident took her fight to the state Capitol and won again, as Minnesota became just the second state to designate the special day.
So, off the heels of those successes, putting together a local program celebrating Vietnam Veterans Day in 2008 must have been a piece of cake, right?
“When we first started, I didn’t know if we’d even get 10 people,” Finnemann said this week.
Finally, Finnemann was wrong. The event was a hit, and quickly became an annual tradition here. After two years of overflow crowds, the event left its original home at the Hardwood Creek Government Center for more open spaces.
For the fourth year, 2011, Finnemann tagged a theme to the event. That program honored the local men who lost their lives due to the war. The day continued to evolve last spring, when author Kim Heikkila’s appearance tied in with the theme of women who served in Vietnam.
As plans finalize for the sixth-annual observance this Sunday, March 24, Finnemann reports that locals who come out to the 2 p.m. program at the American Legion Post 225 are in for a memorable afternoon.
Maynard Kaderlik, past president of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), is a late addition to the program. Kaderlik will speak at the beginning of the event and hold a question and answer session at its conclusion. The veterans legislation expert will discuss the VVA’s Agent Orange Education Campaign.
Agent Orange is also the topic of this year’s essay contest, in which Forest Lake High School students compete for a $500 scholarship provided by Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Charities. This year’s scholarship will be given in memory of Kevin Dale, a Coon Rapids man with ties here who passed away last year due to Agent Orange complications.
For the second part of Sunday’s program, Netta Squires, a development associate with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), will present an update on plans for the educational center that is in the works at the site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
VVMF reached out and offered to come at no cost, said Finnemann.
“I can’t believe they stepped up and asked if they can come to our program,” she said. “I just about fell over.”
One of the facility’s highlights will be a system that allows visitors to step into the shoes of a true American hero. Visitors will receive a random dog tag representing a soldier who is memorialized on the nearby wall for making the ultimate sacrifice. The tag bearer will then be able to pull up photos and other detailed information on that soldier.
In preparation for that feature, VVMF is working on the significant undertaking of gathering information, memories and photos of each of the 58,282 Americans who died. As part of this Faces Never Forgotten campaign, Finnemann is coordinating the collection effort in Minnesota, home to 1,074 soldiers listed on the memorial wall.
VVMF will have scanning equipment on site this Sunday, so those who knew a fallen Vietnam veteran are encouraged to come prepared.
The learning center will also display some of the hundreds of thousands of items left at the wall over the years by those paying tribute.
“It’s an exciting thing to be a part of because this is going to be something that is going to teach generation after generation,” Finnemann said.
The Vietnam Veterans Day event will again be hosted by Twin Cities media personality Stan Turner.
Finnemann expects the program to last approximately 75 minutes.